Proposition: We (that is, all of us) stop using the words “terrorist” and “terrorism” altogether.
1) It suggests some ideological legitimacy to acts of murder, framing them as “at least coming from SOME belief system and trying to accomplish SOME goal”. And then, when they are contrasted against other acts of murder, like the terrorism/murders in Las Vegas, all sorts of inter-group bullshit kicks in, where White murderers are murderers and Brown/Black murderers are terrorists. By reframing “terrorism” as “murder”, we may gain the ability to see that these acts are ALWAYS based on some sort of belief system, and are ALWAYS also based on the same systemic and personal factors that lead to violent behaviour in general.
Along the same vein, “terrorism” has the effect of de-emphasizing the individual factors that predispose people to acts of violence, and make them vulnerable to group influences so that they are more likely to be recruited or to drift into extreme ideologies. “Terrorism” makes it harder for us to see that terrorists are just people who have fallen prey to extreme influences, fundamentally no different from becoming part of a cult, joining a gang, or suffering in an abusive relationship. If we can more clearly SEE the underlying psychological dynamics that make people vulnerable to these types of influences, we would be closer to actually healing the wounds caused by “terrorism” than we ever will be by continuing to bomb the shit out of each other and pouring money into better ways of killing people in large numbers.
2) The “terrorism” language, which is directly traceable in its modern incarnation to George Dubya Bush after 9/11, reinforces a particular way of thinking. Geoff Lakoff calls it “Strong Daddy”, referring to a centralist, patriarchal, hierarchical way of organizing power in families, traditionally speaking. The entire rhetorical structure that comes from Strong Daddy ways of thinking, makes it easier to contemplate certain courses of action (e.g., war) rather than other courses of action (e.g., community empowerment, basic income and housing plans, ecological restoration, permaculture and local-scale farming projects). Basically, “terrorism” leads to “war” in people’s minds. Whereas “murder” leads to “policing”, “justice”, etc. — which activate a whole different framework from war.
Principles of justice lay at the heart of civilized society; they bind us together, even internationally. “Justice” and “policing”, while having connections to “power” and “hierarchy” of course, ALSO have connections to “community”, “rehabilitation”, “prevention” and even “forgiveness”. If terrorism –> war, then murder –> justice, community & cooperation….
So, instead of “terrorism”, let’s talk about acts of “murder”. This will support a different way of thinking, and make it easier to marshall resources in order to cooperate, locally and internationally, to disrupt criminal networks, and bring the apprehension of murderers into a consensual international legal framework.
3) The word terrorism is inextricably bound up with intergroup conflict. It FRAMES the entire discussion of societal violence as an inter-group phenomenon, reinforcing an “us vs. them” way of thinking. Thus, the more we talk about “terrorism” and “terrorists” the deeper we dig the perceived intergroup divides that carve society into seemingly antagonistic chunks. Whereas talking about “murder” and “murderers” unites us all, in a way, and helps us to see that “the enemy” is not other groups in general; rather, “the enemy” is the network of factors that breeds criminal behaviour, and “the solution” is WORKING TOGETHER, especially at community scales. More community, less bombs.
What do you think?